U.S. Markets closed

Pelosi warns White House over whistleblower complaint

By Sarah Ferris and Eleanor Mueller

Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Sunday delivered a blunt warning to the Trump administration over its refusal so far to share details of an explosive whistleblower complaint, amid intensifying pressure from the vocal pro-impeachment wing of the Democratic Caucus.

Pelosi wrote in a rare weekend letter to lawmakers that President Donald Trump would enter “a grave new chapter of lawlessness” if he succeeded in blocking Congress from learning about his reported conversations pressing Ukranian officials to investigate the son of former Vice President Joe Biden, the Democratic frontrunner in the 2020 presidential contest.

That kind of stonewalling, she said, would lead Democrats “into a whole new stage of investigation” — marking her most forceful response yet to reports that Trump sought help from a foreign government to find dirt on a political rival. Still, Pelosi did not address the single biggest question on the mind of her caucus: impeachment.

Trump’s reported talks with the Ukranian government about Biden — which the president appeared to confirm on Sunday — have outraged the Democratic Party, which had already been investigating the president for, in part, being receptive to help from a foreign government in his 2016 campaign.

Top Democrats who had remained strikingly neutral on the issue of impeachment, like Rep. Adam Schiff of California, the House Intelligence Committee chairman, sounded more willing to take the drastic step.

Schiff said Sunday on CNN’s “State of the Union” that impeachment “may be the only remedy” if Trump was, indeed, dangling military aid to Ukraine to sway its leaders to investigate Biden.

“We very well may have crossed the Rubicon here,” Schiff said, later adding: “It may be that we do have to move forward with that extraordinary remedy.”

Some Democratic lawmakers, who were already growing restless with their party’s investigations into Trump, began to voice their frustrations with their leadership — disrupting the careful balance within the fractious caucus that Pelosi and her leadership team have long sought to maintain.

“At this point, the bigger national scandal isn’t the president’s lawbreaking behavior — it is the Democratic Party’s refusal to impeach him for it,” Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), a vocal backer of impeachment, wrote in a tweet that quickly went viral.

Another Democrat, Rep. Brendan Boyle of Pennsylvania, tweeted: “This is worse than Watergate. We must move forward with impeachment proceedings.”

Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) added in on Twitter that Trump’s reported talks with Ukraine “take impeachable offenses to a whole new level.”

Democratic leaders are unlikely to act before at least Thursday, when the House Intelligence Committee will hear directly from the acting director of national intelligence, Joseph Maguire.

It could be a pivotal moment in the Democrats’ nearly yearlong investigations into Trump, as they interrogate a man who has already refused to disclose details of the whistleblower report in a closed-door session last week.

Pelosi wrote in her “Dear Colleague” letter on Sunday that Democrats would ask Maguire to turn over the whistleblower’s “full complaint.” She also said Democrats would request that the whistleblower be allowed to “speak directly to the House and Senate Intelligence Committees.”

If those demands aren’t met, it could force a reckoning within the Democratic Party among dozens of members who have so far declined to support impeachment. A total of 146 Democrats support taking the next step toward impeachment, while 89 Democrats say they don’t support the move, according to a POLITICO tally.

But it could also ignite a painful debate within Pelosi’s caucus over how to move ahead with formal impeachment proceedings, and whether to do so at all. A group of moderate Democrats has specifically warned Pelosi that impeaching Trump would drown out the party’s legislative agenda and endanger its majority in 2020.

Last week, the House Judiciary Committee held what it billed as its first “impeachment hearing” to question Corey Lewandowski, a former Trump campaign manager, even as Pelosi herself stressed that only the Democratic Caucus could decide whether to move forward.

But progressive Democrats have argued a different case: They fear that failing to impeach Trump could infuriate their base and lower turnout in 2020.

As they return to Washington this week, House Democrats will be closely eyeing reaction from Republicans, who, so far, have stood by Trump as he’s been accused of possible obstruction of justice by special counsel Robert Mueller, and linked to a campaign finance violation that sent his former personal lawyer Michael Cohen to prison.

Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah on Sunday became the first Republican to call for further investigation into Trump’s actions.

“If the President asked or pressured Ukraine’s president to investigate his political rival, either directly or through his personal attorney, it would be troubling in the extreme,” Romney tweeted. “Critical for the facts to come out.”

Still, Schiff acknowledged that the Republican-controlled Senate would not go along with any Democratic efforts to impeach.

“There’s no chance of us persuading the Senate, the Senate Republicans, in an impeachment trial,” he said on Sunday. “They have shown their willingness to carry the president’s baggage, no matter how soiled its contents.”